Before we specifically examine same-sex relationships, we must examine another issue from the not-so-distant past. American slave owners justified slavery biblically. Let that sink in. Christians biblically justified the ownership of human beings for commercial use and labeled them as second-class citizens. How? Michael Emerson shares their reasoning in his book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America:
Are you cringing? I sure hope so. Reading this reasoning from a contemporary lens, we can’t help but be appalled by these words. But, a significant amount of the US population believed this. Has the Bible changed in the last 200 years? No. Has God changed? No. What changed? Our interpretation of the Bible and our understanding of God. Christ calls us to continuous sanctification, not just as individuals, but as a community. This means that our faith is dynamic, it is continually evolving and refining.
Quick side note: The atrocity of slavery in America is a uniquely perverse event in our history, and I do not believe in making direct comparisons to the suffering of black Americans — nothing can compare to their experience. That being said, the general Christian culture’s use of scripture to defend this atrocity is directly comparable to the plight of LGBTQ+ people.
This isn’t good, but I don’t want to make it a big deal…
I imagine that this thought process happened in many people 200 years ago, “I don’t think it’s fair that these people are treated differently, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it.” Fast forward to now and we observe something similar, “I feel bad for gay people, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it.” There is a common theme of “Accept the person but not their lifestyle.” Funny thing is, the same people claim that they would have taken a stand against slavery 200 years ago.
Now is the time to take your stand for human rights. Now is your shot to not be the people who failed to take a stand 200 years ago — and were complacent with slavery through their silence. It took until June 26, 2015 for the land of the free to allow same-sex marriage…2015...WHAT?!? Thank goodness that Christianity pushed for this decision, and then welcomed these people with open arms…wait...we didn’t do that?!?
Before we pull out our Bibles, hermeneutics, and doctrines, we must meet people where they are and hear their story. It is really easy to have an opinion about something that does not affect your day-to-day experience, but it is much harder when something affects you or someone you love. Until you have a relationship with a gay person, your opinion of them — and political actions you take with regard same-sex rights — must be unequivocally supportive and affirming.
Woah woah woah, that’s a bold statement…doesn’t the Bible specifically talk about sexuality? Of course, it does! But, what does Jesus do — every single time — before he talks theology, rules, or practices? He loves the person! More often than not he breaks bread with them and forms a relationship with them. Sharing life with people, and forming a bond of trust, is what opens the door to discussion and discipleship, not well-crafted social media posts. That being said, let’s take a look at scripture and see what we can find.
How did Romans have sex, date, and marry?
We cannot ignore the context of scripture. What did Jesus and Paul have in mind when they discussed issues of sexuality? Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explains how the Roman culture viewed sexuality in her video with Big Think:
Did the Romans think like we do? Did they go on dates, become Facebook official, get engaged, and then get married? No! And that’s what we need to keep in mind when we engage with the words of Jesus or Paul in the New Testament. Jesus routinely subverted culture and societal norms, He radically opposed oppression — valuing all of humanity with the utmost dignity.
As you see in Beard’s video, Roman sexuality did not emphasize consent, monogamy, or human dignity — it valued power — specifically male power. Homosexuality was not men falling in love and pursuing a monogamous relationship (at least in general), it was an imposition of male, penetrative power over a lesser social class or age. Christianity, and Jesus in particular come down harshly on power structures, hierarchy, and oppression. If the regular expression of homosexuality was that of oppression, of course Jesus would condemn it! On the other hand, I would argue that Jesus would have a much different view of homosexuality in the context of a consenting, monogamous, selfless love between same-sex males or females.
If we take a step back, all teaching on Biblical sexuality boils down to motivations, unity, and respect. What is sex supposed to be? It should be a physical expression of the unity, love, and affection between two consenting individuals. In the Biblical context of a consenting, loving, mutual connection, sex is reflective of God’s relationship with humanity — a joyful, overwhelming, mutual connection between the human and the divine. Yes, in a heterosexual context, sex also represents the creation of a new human being, but procreation is not the sole point of the connection. If heterosexual couples have sex for the sake of pleasure and connection, a same-sex connection is no different and no less indicative of God’s glory.
Matthew Vines’, The Reformation Project, makes a fantastic, scriptural case for LGBTQ inclusion in “A Brief Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion.”
The Evolution and Psychology of Same-Sex Attraction
Homosexuality is not a perversion, fetish, or choice. People are born with an attraction to males or females. Heterosexual attraction may be more common, but that does not mean that homosexuality is a disorder. If we consider our evolutionary heritage, more about a Christian perspective on evolution in this article, homosexuality is common in many different species in the animal kingdom — 450+ in fact. Check out these articles for more info:
Wikipedia (surprisingly well-sourced and comprehensive): Homosexual Behavior in Animals
National Geographic: Same-sex Behavior Common Across Animal Species, Review Finds
Yale Scientific: Do Animals Exhibit Homosexuality?
LiveScience: Being Gay Is Natural: Just Ask Bonobos (Op-Ed)
While we obviously do not base our behavior on that of animals, the fact that homosexual behavior is present in the rest of the animal kingdom is indicative that we have an ancestral obligation to look at homosexuality from a scientific perspective.
As for humans, the science tells us that homosexuality has a “strong biological component to sexual orientation, and that it can be influenced by the interaction of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors,” and that “there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation, be it heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise, is a freewill choice. (American Psychiatric Association)” The APA also addresses conversion therapy, “efforts to change an individual’s orientation through so-called “conversion therapy” can and often do cause real harm. In fact, the risks associated with “conversion therapy” include depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation and decreased capacity for intimacy.”
Depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation, decreased capacity for intimacy. What ties all of these symptoms together? Lack of basic acceptance of identity. As a heterosexual male, let’s make a thought experiment. I meet a girl in college, I build a relationship with her — share my innermost thoughts, desires, traumas, blessings — and I fall in love with her. I come home to my parents, butterflies in my stomach, excited to share with them that I found this incredible woman. When I finally tell them, I am met with tears, anger, and rage. My love is a perversion. They tell me that they will always love me, but they will never accept my relationship. My significant lover will never be accepted. My faith will always be questioned.
I often hear the argument that a gay person’s identity should not be wrapped up in their sexuality — they should find their identity in Christ. This is drastically missing the point. Of course, Christians should find their identity in Christ, but this is true for everyone. The only reason that homosexual people identify so strongly as such is that they have been so ostracized, condemned, and isolated. If it was easy to be gay, then no one would have to march, protest, or advocate. If the situation was flipped, I am sure people would “find their identity” in heterosexuality. Bottom line, we all find our identity in hundreds of places — church, school, marriage, children, sports, gender, name, creed, political party — and the argument to “find their identity in Christ” does not benefit the LGBTQ+ community. Gay Christians can find their identity in Christ too.
What Should Christians Do?
As I said earlier, until you have a relationship with a gay person, your opinion of them — and political actions you take with regard same-sex rights — must be unequivocally supportive and affirming. If you have done your research, biblical study, and have a relationship with the gay community — and still don’t agree with their lifestyle — it’s not your life or your decision, you still must be unequivocally supportive and affirming of their identity, freedom, and worth. Our spiritual lives are intimate, personal, and dynamic. Gay or straight, some people decide to be celibate, some decide to be sexually active, and in the end, it’s up to an individual’s personal relationship with God to decide how, when, and with whom they will have an intimate relationship. We are all equally susceptible to having sex for the wrong reasons or the right reasons, but our guiding principle is the pursuit of a relationship that is mutual, consenting, loving, and selfless.
What if you are convinced that monogamous, heterosexual relationships are God’s only intended, perfect design for sexual relationships? What if you think that intervening and standing for God’s perfect design while inevitably benefit homosexual people? What we have to realize is that no matter how biblically, theologically, or ethically-sound our opinions are — there is always another viewpoint that is equally sound and defensible. There are Christians who drink — and don’t drink. Christians who are democrat — and who are republican. Who believe that God predestines for salvation — or that salvation is a personal choice. The bottom line — the actions that we take and the opinions we have — are a personal decision we make after years of pursuing God and an understanding what God wants for us. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)” It is up to our personal relationship with God to determine what is beneficial, wise, and fruitful. Don’t be the person that looks back and wishes you did more to stick up for the oppressed.
Impactful LGBTQ+ Biblical Resources
If you want to learn more about LGBTQ+ issues, here are the resources that have been most impactful to me:
The Liturgist Podcast: Episode 20 - LGBTQ
The Reformation Project: A Bible-Based, Gospel-Centered Approach to LGBTQ Inclusion
Ask Science Mike: Episode 26 - The Supreme Court, Same-Sex Marriage, and What Happens Next
The Bible for Normal People: Episode 14 – The Bible and the Gay Christian